The Dão region in central Portugal lies to the south of the legendary Douro Valley. For many years the Dão was associated with highly tannic, fairly ordinary reds, but recently some very handsome reds and ever-improving whites have emerged and gained both national and international recognition. This region is historically rich with Roman and medieval traces. It is also one of the oldest wine regions in Portugal, having been officially demarcated in 1908.
The Dão is protected from the Southeast by the Serra da Estrela mountains and to the west of the region the Serra do Caramulo mountains shelter the vineyards from the climatic influences of the Atlantic (rainfall, in particular, is significantly lower in the Dão than in neighboring Bairrada, which receives all of the precipitation straight off the Atlantic coast). That said the Dão does receive a good dosage of rain, but fortunately, it tends to be in the winter and during the ripening months the weather is generally hot and dry.
Not only is the Dão surrounded by mountains, but the vineyards themselves are at an altitude averaging 400 to 500m. The region sits on an extensive granite plateau, with a sandy soil covering. These soils tend to produce grapes with high acidity, which is further encouraged by the altitude and corresponding temperate conditions (high day temperatures which promote sugar accumulation and cooler night temperatures which preserve acidity). In conclusion, the Dão has the perfect climate and terroir to produce fine, well-structured wines, with good acidity. Typical Dão wines are often compared to Burgundy in style. The relatively recent trend in premium wine production in this area is mainly due to the dissolution of the monopoly of wine production which was controlled by the co-operatives. Many of Portugal’s top wine producers are spreading into the Dão from other regions with some very impressive results.
Touriga Nacional Varietal
Touriga Nacional is the leading red variety of the Dão, along with a number of other indigenous varieties such as Tinta Roriz (the Tempranillo of Spain), Jaen (the Spanish Mencia) and Alfrocheiro Preto. Almost always a blend is preferred over single varieties. The reds are definitely center stage here, but some very respectable, crisp, aromatic whites are produced from predominantly Encruzado, Bical, and Arinto. In fact, Dão is the birthplace of both Touriga Nacional and Encruzado.
The shift from cooperative domination started in the 1950s when a number of producers started by buying wines from the cooperatives and investigating what could be expected from the Dão region in terms of quality. Slowly but surely some of the countries biggest players, such as Sogrape purchased Quintas in the region and started to heavily invest and focus on quality over quantity. Incentives were put into place to encourage the growers (they were still responsible for the bulk proportion of grapes harvested in the region), such as higher prices for the production of noble varieties (Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz).
Other significant practices that facilitated the transition to improved quality, was the pulling up of red and white blend plantings (it was traditionally typical to interplant red and white grape varieties within the same plots), experimenting with different varietals and the return to organic and sustainable viticulture. Nowadays Dão is one of the most conspicuous and alluring regions of Portugal. You can visit the Dão as part of our Portugal Wine Odyssey Tour